Thursday, 24 April 2014

ChefButler Review - April 2014 - Meal Preparation Subscription Box

What is it? ChefButler  How Much? $35/month for a box every month or $17.50/month for boxes every other month What’s in it? Unique recipes, and high-quality dry ingredients and sauces needed to create a full meal.  

The April ChefButler box features Szechuan cuisine, from the Szechuan province in China. 
Cuisine from the Szechuan province is known for its bold flavours – especially for the use of garlic, chili peppers, and Szechuan peppercorns. We have featured the Szechuan peppercorn in our main this month.  While the name (and appearance) may lead you to believe it’s related to black pepper, this is not the case.  The Szechuan peppercorn is actually part of the citrus family, and tastes nothing like the pepper you are used to.  Szechuan peppercorns have a very unique, lemony flavour, and may even a bit of a numbing sensation in your mouth. 
 First look

As soon as I opened the box I knew it was an Asian theme. I could smell the soy sauce right through the pouches!

Along with all the dry goods and pantry ingredients required to cook the meal, each ChefButler box includes a welcome note, a "Game Plan" or cooking timeline, a Shoppling List for fresh ingredients, and three recipes. April's box included recipes for an appetizer, a main, and a side dish.There was also a little bonus dessert item in the box.

Appetizer: Hot & Sour Soup
The soup combines several different flavours into one dish, giving it its unique taste.  The “hot” comes from the hot pepper flakes, and the “sour” from the vinegar.  We love the richness of flavour in this dish, and can’t get enough of it.
Side Dish: Hot Szechuan-Style Green Beans
The sauce adds great flavour to a traditional side of green beans. They can be served either hot or cold, but we like ours hot.
Spicy green beans is one of my absolute favourite Chinese dishes. It usually includes minced beef or pork so I might doctor the recipe a bit and add some minced pork to the dish. 

Main Dish: Bon Bon Chicken
Our main is a Szechuan peppercorn inspired main, served on a bed of cucumber.  The cucumber gives a refreshing balance to both the chicken and the sauce.
As a bonus, ChefButler included four little coconut jellies to end the meal. 

I'm looking forward to cooking this meal. I eat Chinese food often, and I cook Asian stir fries often, but I've never cooked any of these dishes. As I said above, I love spicy green beans so I am most looking forward to the side dish. I have two friends coming over for dinner tomorrow night and I will be cooking them a Szechuan feast. I will post the results, with cost breakdown, next week.

If you are interested in the April ChefButler box, featuring Szechuan cuisine, contact to order a one-time box for $35, including shipping.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Julep Maven - Subscription Changes

This post contains affiliate links.

Julep Maven Subscription - first box free

There are some changes coming to the Julep Maven program. Here is a quick run down from what I have gathered so far.

  • Applies to those who sign up AFTER May 1, 2014.
  • Monthly cost rises to $24.99.
  • Welcome box is still free using FREEBOX code. Just pay $4.99 shipping.
  • Option to purchase 3-month pre-paid recurring subscription for $59.97 (makes it $19.99 per month - best value).
  • If you pre-pay, your welcome box is free, as is the shipping!
  • Ability to fully customize your monthly Maven box. Don't like a colour in the Classic With A Twist box? Swap it out for a Boho Glam colour. See here for more about Customization.
  • You can still skip twice per year.

  • Nothing has to change, unless you want it to. Your Maven account will remain as is, as will the monthly cost.
  • If you want customization, you can switch your current account to a "My Maven" account. 
  • My Maven is $24.99 per month, unless you purchase a 3-month pre-paid subscription for $59.97. 
  • Once you switch to My Maven, you CANNOT switch back.
  • If you don't switch to a My Maven account, you CANNOT customize your monthly box.
  • You can still skip as much as you want (assuming you signed up prior to December 18, 2013), even if you pre-pay for 3 months.
  • Changes take effect during the June Maven window at the end of May. When you login to your account to select your June box, there will be an option to upgrade to a My Maven account or a Maven Luxe account. 

  • New tier for Mavens. Available to new and existing subscribers.
  • Receive $60 worth of beauty innovations and bestsellers in every box
  • $39.99 per month or pre-pay for 3 months and make it only $34.99 per month.
  • Completely customizable. 
  • It is not clear if you can downgrade to a My Maven account after you have upgraded to Maven Luxe.

  • If you have been thinking of trying Julep, you may wish to sign up before May 1st.
  • If you sign up after May 1st, the 3-month pre-paid option is the best value. You save $4.99 shipping on your Welcome Box, plus save $5 per month on your Monthly Maven box.
  • I'm not sure the My Maven option is worth it for existing Mavens. We will still have the ability to "add-on" additional polishes from the monthly collection for $4.99. Instead of "customizing" a box for $5 more, it makes more sense to add an additional polish to the box for the same amount.
  • If existing Mavens are interested in the benefits of customization with My Maven, the 3-month pre-paid option is your best bet as the box remains $19.99 per month (paid 3 months at a time).
  • The inability to downgrade subscriptions once you "upgrade" is a concern. Julep has yet to address this one.

If you are interested in signing up for Julep Maven and want to do it before the changes take effect, please consider using my referral link and sign up today!

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Foodie Pages Tasting Box Review - April 2014 - Gourmet Food Box

This post contains referral links.
What is it? Foodie Pages Tasting Box
How much? $14.95 one time purchase, plus shipping
What's in it?  5 scrumptious tastes from some of Canada's top food makers

After ordering the March Tasting Box last month, I decided to get the April box as well. The box shipped the first week of April and was larger than a usual Tasting Box. It was also heavier!

First look
Louise Prete Fine Foods Sugo Pomodoro all'Amatriciana (737g jar, $9.99)
This is what was so heavy!

Kimberley's Own Nibscotti (3 pack sampler, ~$3)
This is a new addition to the Kimberley's Own line of all natural granola. It's so new it isn't even available for sale on Foodie Pages.

Batch Sweet Kitchen Salted Caramel Popcorn (5g sample, $0.50)
This sample was tiny... like a third of a cup tiny... but it was absolutely delicious!

Manning Canning Spicy Tomato Jam (45ml sample, $1.50)
This product is already a favourite of mine. I've been purchasing full size jars from Foodie Pages for a while now, usually two at a time, every 3-4 months. It's amazing with eggs, and also great in place of ketchup on burgers and meatloaf.

The April Foodie Pages Tasting Box contained four products, with an approximate value of $15. The value is exactly what I paid, not including shipping, which runs close to $10. This is the second box I've received post-subscription model change. Both have been very low value - equal to the cost of the box. Prior to the model change, the boxes always had very good value for money paid. Now with the low value, plus the cost of shipping, I'm not sure the Tasting Box is worth it anymore. It's a shame because I've discovered quite a few great products and great companies through the Tasting Box.

If you are interested in the April Foodie Pages Tasting Box, they are still available for purchase. Click here to sign up for Foodie Pages.

Monday, 21 April 2014

Limited Edition FLARE Mani-Pedi Topbox Review - Spring 2014

What is it? Limited Edition FLARE Mani-Pedi Topbox
How Much? $25 one time purchase
What’s in it? Six full sized high-coverage, quick-dry polishes, a cuticle cream, a nourishing top coat, and a 1-year subscription to FLARE magazine

My FLARE Mani-Pedi kit arrived the other day, shipped in the same box as my April Topbox.

Put your best feet (and hands) forward this spring with nail shades hot off the international runways. This deluxe kit, which includes six high-coverage, quick-dry polishes, a cuticle cream and a nourishing top coat, is guaranteed to upgrade any mani or pedi while care and application tips from FLARE’s beauty team will keep your nails looking their best all season long.

 First look

I enjoy painting my nails and I was in need of some fun, new spring colours, so I snapped out this kit as soon as it was released. As one of the first 500 to purchase, I received a bonus full size So Susan Cheek Stain, valued at $35! The rest of the products are from the Sally Hansen Complete Salon Manicure line of products.

  • Dry & Go Drops ($8.99)
  • Manicure Cuticle Eraser + Balm ($8.99)
  • Overcoat in Strawberry Shields ($8.99)
  • Nail Polish in Tickle Me Pink ($8.99)
  • Nail Polish in Get Juiced ($8.99)
  • Nail Polish in Trouble Maker ($8.99)
  • Nail Polish in I Lilac You ($8.99)
  • Nail Polish in Jaded ($8.99)
  • Nail Shaper (~$2)

The  FLARE Mani-Pedi Kit from Topbox includes eight full-size Sally Hansen nail care products, plus a one year subscription to FLARE magazine. The total approximate retail value of this offer is $87, based on Canadian retail prices. On top of that, I also received a full size Cheek Stain from So Susan, valued at $35. Unfortunately the So Susan bonus is no longer available, but the FLARE Mani-Pedi Kit still is! I painted my nails using Get Juiced the other day (3rd from left) and I love the results. I received quite a few compliments too. I plan on painting my nails with Jaded (first on left) for Easter.

Click here to get your own Limited Edition FLARE Mani-Pedi Topbox, available while supplies last.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Update - ChefButler March Results

What is it? ChefButler 
How Much? $35/month for a box every month or $17.50/month for boxes every other month
What’s in it? Unique recipes, and high-quality dry ingredients and sauces needed to create a full meal.

The March ChefButler box featured food from Pakistan. You can read my original box review post here. I invited a few friends over for dinner the other night and prepared them a Middle Eastern feast. This is the third ChefButler meal I have prepared, and I think this one is my favourite.

On the menu:
  • Vegetable Biryani
  • Beef Queema
  • Ladoo

The ChefButler box included all the dry goods necessary, even rice! Everything comes pre-measured. Just cut open the packet and dump it in.

The shopping list list required the following fresh food items:
  • 1 red onion - $1.20
  • 1 white onion - $1.25
  • 1 tomato - $1.10
  • 2 large carrots - $0.53
  • 1lb yellow potatoes - $2.30
  • 7 garlic cloves (already had on hand)
  • ginger root (already had on hand)
  • fresh cilantro - $0.98
  • frozen peas - $1.49
  • 1 1/2 lbs lean ground beef - $11.00 (2lbs)
  • plain yogourt - $4.97
  • whole milk - $1.99
  • cooking oil (already had on hand)
In total I spent $26.81 on groceries. I have left over yogourt, milk, and peas, which can be used for other recipes and purposes.

Biryani & Queema

The recipes were very easy to follow. The biggest time consumer was prepping the veggies - onions, carrots, tomato, and potatoes. Once the "mise en place", or prep work was complete, the cooking process was very easy. The Game Plan suggested to start the Queema once the rice was cooking. The timing worked perfectly as both dishes were finished cooking around the same time.

Vegetable Biryani is like rice pilaf. It's seasoned with garlic, ginger, cumin, garam masala, and turmeric. It was very flavourful and quite delicious. I will make this one again.

Beef Queema reminded me of goulash while I was cooking it. When it was complete it reminded me of Shepard's pie filling. When I tasted it, this queema reminded me of beef samosa filling. That's probably the best way to describe it. Queema is seasoned with garlic, ginger, turmeric, coriander, and cinnamon. It's stewed with peas and potatoes in a milk and yogourt mixture. I was a little concerned the potatoes would not cook through, but they ended up being absolutely perfect. This was another fragrant, flavourful dish. It's easily my favourite ChefButler dish so far.

Coconut & Apricot Ladoo

For dessert we made Ladoo. I opted not to prepare these in advance and instead made them with my guests while dinner was cooking. I thought it might make the food experience more fun and I was right. We had a great time trying to shape little balls out of the super sticky, sweet mixture. The balls were good, but not something I would make again.

I was really pleased with this ChefButler meal, as were my guests. Everyone had seconds (or thirds). The recipes are meant to make enough for four adults, but I had enough to feed double that amount. I cooked this meal on Monday night and I have been eating Biryani and Queema every day for lunch and/or dinner since. The total cost for the ingredients (including the $35 ChefButler box) was $61.81. That works out to just over $15 per person to feed four, or just about $8 per person to feed eight. Since my first ChefButler box I have wondered if it is a cost effective way of preparing meals. As a single person, cooking for myself, I would say it isn't, but when it comes to cooking for a crowd or a dinner party, ChefButler is probably more affordable than most other options. Only $8 to $15 per person for a quality three course meal is pretty reasonable.

If you are interested in trying the March ChefButler box featuring food from Pakistan, contact ChefButler by e-mail. At the end of each month they sell the left over boxes as a one-time purchase option for $35 each, while supplies last.

Friday, 18 April 2014

Ipsy Glam Bag Review - April 2014 - Beauty Subscription Bag

What is it? Ipsy Glam Bag
How Much? $10 per month, plus $4.95 shipping to Canada
What’s in it?  4-5 beauty products every month  

It's Ipsy time again. Ipsy is consistently one of my favourite subscriptions, because of the variety of brands and products they include every month. The theme for April's Ipsy Glam Bag is "Beauty Rocks".

Life is a dance floor, so why not live it up, sing out loud, and shake them hips?! This month, we're celebrating our unique beauty to the sound of tunes and festivals that fill the spring air. So, whether you're chilling in a campground or spinning in a ballroom, all of your April "Beauty Rocks!" products will help your lovely look become a hit!
 First look

The cosmetic bag is a bit larger than normal and features and old school record player motif. I have no opinion on the bag. Most of the ones I receive get donated. I admit, I peeked at my Glam Room in advance so I knew what I was getting. It's still fun to open the package and check out all the products though.

First up is my referral bonus gift. I was surprised to see this in my bag, since I didn't redeem any points for it. When I went to try to redeem points, it was no longer available. I'm thinking maybe all high-level referrers received one. From reading reviews it looks like those who did redeem points for this perk received two of them, and those that didn't redeem any received one. That's just a stab in the dark, to justify the existence of this product in my bag. No complaints though. It's a lovely product! (estimated value - $7)

Urban Decay 24/7 Velvet Glide-On Eye Pencil (travel size - 0.8g  $13)
Robyn had good things to say about this pencil so I'm very excited to try it. I'm looking for something other than my usual go-to liquid liner.  A full size is 1.5x the travel size version and costs $20.

Cailyn Tinted Lip Balm in Apple Ping (full size - $19)
I hate the packaging of this lip balm. It's super inconvenient. I like the colour though, but I probably won't use this.
Elizabeth Mott Pop! Goes the Shadow in Champagne (2g full size, $12.99)
This shadow is smaller than I expected, and the colour is less pink than it appears online, but it's a very nice basic, neutral colour. I enjoy it.

Dr. Brandt  Micodermabrasion Skin Exfoliant (0.25oz, $19.50)
Goodness this product is expensive. A 2 ounce tube is $78! It won the 2012 Allure Best of Beauty Award for Best Scrub... whatever that means. Reviews online indicate it might not be good for those with sensitive skin. I shall use with caution.

Demeter Perfume Roll On in Jasmine (0.29oz, $10)
I have always wanted one of these Demeter roll on prefumes so I was happy to see this, but the scent is a little too powerful and floral for my tastes. Demeter sure has some crazy scents - Pizza? Bourbon? And what does Sunshine smell like? How about Holy Water? And helllllllo Sex on the Beach!

My April Ipsy bag includes five products valued at $74.50 (not including the bonus product). It's a great value for a bag that cost me $14.95 ($16.97 CDN with exchange). I love the eyeliner and eye shadow. They are products I will definitely use and I will give the Microdermabraision srcub a try. I'm not sure if I will try the lip balm and perfume though. Those may go to the gift pile. Overall, I am happy with my April Ipsy haul.

If you are interested in signing up for Ipsy, please consider using my referral link!

What did you get in your Ipsy bag this month?

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Julep Maven Review - April 2014 - Beauty Subscription Box + PROMO CODES

This post includes affiliate links.

What is it? Julep Maven
How Much? $19.99 per month, shipping included
What’s in it? At least $40 worth of products chosen depending on your style profile, or upgrade your box for an additional fee and get the entire collection.

The April's theme is The Vivid Collection. It's a collection full of bright, vibrant polish colours for Spring, as well as new blush and bronzer products. This post is FULL of promo codes as Julep has gone a little promo crazy over the past month.

First look

I opted for the Modern Beauty box this month, which includes a blush and a bronzer. None of the polish colours really grabbed me, plus I don't really need any more nail polish in my collection.

Julep is still offering the PERK10 promo code. Get $10 off your next purchase of $20 or more. The offer only applies to regular store purchases, excluding Savvy Deals. Deal expires May 31, 2014.

But why settle for $10 off when you can get $20 off instead? Use promo code SPRING20 to save $20 off store orders of $50 or more. This one expires at 11:59pm Pacific time on April 18th, 2014. Same rules and restrictions apply.

Julep GLOW Pore Minimizing Blush in Peach Bellini ($24)
I really like this colour. It's a good every day, all purpose shade. 

Julep GLOW Pore Minimizing Bronzer in Light Golden Bronze ($28)
I don't use bronzer at all but thought I would give it a try. If it doesn't work out I will gift it to my sister. The reviews of this product on Julep's site are terrible.

And because I am just a subscription box reviewer, and don't know SFA about cosmetics, I will now direct you to Robyn from Brightest Bulb in the Box. I suggest you read her opinion on the blush and bronzer here. She debunks some of the claims Julep makes about these two products.

I didn't purchase the accompanying brushes, but if you are interested in the Julep Blush Brush or Julep Bronzer Brush, you can get 25% off until April 30, 2014 with promo code GLOW25.

My April Julep Maven box is really quite boring now that I look at the picture. I received two products this month, which Julep says are valued at $52 combined. I do like the blush and will likely add it into my rotation for basic makeup looks. The bronzer ended up being a no-go for me. It's too dark and I have no clue how to blend it well to make it work. It goes in the gift pile.

If you are interested in joining the Julep Maven program to get your own monthly Maven box, click here. Don't forget to use promo code FREEBOX to get your first box free. Just pay $4.95 shipping. Next month features the coveted and highly promoted Julep Plie Wand.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Topbox Review - April 2014 - Beauty Subscription Box

What is it? Topbox
How Much? $12 per month, shipping included
What’s in it?  4 deluxe beauty samples   

My April Topbox arrived today, right on schedule. Topbox ships on the 15th of the month, as of January 2014. Despite pushing shipping back by one week, their shipping still runs like clockwork. I received my shipping notice yesterday and my box was delivered to my door this morning. I selected the regular box this month.

As soon as I unwrapped the packaging I could smell peppermint. The product card indicates soap is included so that must be the culprit. I love peppermint so this is good.

Pur-Lisse - Pur-Moist Hydra Balance Moisturizer (15ml,  $13.65)

LA Splash - Nail Splash in Grey Cashmere (10ml, $7.50)
At first I was disappointed with this colour. In the bottle it looks like mud. Not very fun for spring. After applying a very quick coat to test it out, I actually really like it. I'm going to do a full mani later today! 

Sweet Pea Soap - French Green Clay ($5.95)
The source of the minty smell! I used to feel indifferent about receiving soap but now I really enjoy sampling all sorts of fancy bars that can't be found in the drug store.

Elizabeth Arden - Prevage (2ml sample,  $21)
I've received this sample before, from the Murale Fab & Free promo. Back then it came in a little 5ml vial. This foil packet is pretty disappointing, but even this puny 2ml sample is worth over $20! I wouldn't normally count a foil packet towards the box value but Prevage is like liquid gold. A full size runs $155 for 15ml. I may try to pour this sample into my existing Prevage vial to make it more useful.

My April Topbox contained four products valued at $48.10. I paid $13.44 for this box ($12 plus tax) so it's a great value. This isn't my favourite Topbox, but I will use everything I received so it's a win. I think the nail polish is my favourite item this month and I can't wait to rock my Grey Cashmere mani at work tomorrow!

What did you receive in your April Topbox?